Malaysian state government looks at Sheffield's Freeman College for special needs education
In Malaysia, the school leavers with special needs often struggle to deal with what lies ahead of them due to the lack of strong support system in place.
With no training skills that could prepare them for the real world, many of them end up having to fend for themselves or depend on their aging parents.
But it is time to change that, as a state Government in Malaysia now looks at assisting these individuals by learning the methodology and practical skills taught at several schools under Ruskin Mill Trust around the UK, including Freeman College in Sheffield, which they hope could be implemented in Malaysia.
Sheffield’s Freeman College provides education for young people with a variety of complex diagnoses including autistic spectrum disorders, mental health conditions, ADHD and challenging behaviours.
During their visit at the college on Wednesday, Selangor state executive councillor in charge of welfare, Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud who headed the delegation said the visit was important as Malaysia still do not have any institution that caters for special needs students after they leave school.
“We want to learn their philosophy, know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and hopefully to start something like a pilot study in the state, to be able to give some hope for our youngsters,” she said.
She said she was impressed by how Ruskin Mill exposes the teenagers to various locations to help them transform their lives and let them grow in their own way.
“All of the schools we went to, the students plant, cook and make their own food and it goes back to them so there’s no wastage.
“This is something that we need to inculcate in our society too because we take things for granted. Not only do we get to relive the arts and culture, but we also let people see the environment in a different light.
“This is also the first time I am learning about biodynamic and it’s truly interesting,” she said.
National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom) chairperson Feilina Muhammad Feisol said the non-profit organisation has always looked at improving the livelihood of those with special needs for decades, but there hasn’t been much progress.
“After they finish schools at 18, there is no place in vocational schools for them, no colleges. In Malaysia, you need to have school certificates to get into college or get your Maths at certain grades.
“There’s no way the kids can do it. There are some who can, but when they go to college, they still need support,” she said.
Ms Feilina said the teaching methodology at these schools resonates with her as she too, has a 22-year-old son who suffers from high anxiety.
“I often worry about what’s going to happen to him when I’m gone, so through Ruskin Mill, I could see the true potential that he could have if he could be independent.
“I’m not asking him to look for a job but if he can get up and go out and earn something and make himself useful, it would mean a lot to me,” she said.
She said most special needs youngsters in Malaysia are often confined within four walls, be it at home or at school and are never given the trust to let them explore their own interests.
“If we were to have this Malaysia, we could make full use of our agriculture, the land, and the crafts, exactly what they do here,” she said.
Matthew Briggs, of the Ruskin Mill Trust Education and Research team, said: “It’s really nice to show other people particularly from around the world how we use our methodology and practical skills and therapeutic education to help a range of people with needs or without needs to achieve what they want to achieve.
“Here in this college, we help individuals gain autonomy, skills of agency and skills of executive functioning so they can look after themselves to manage their own future, get the job they want to do and be independent in the community.”